Thanks to an email from my friend Scott Brennan, this morning, suggesting that I address this massive branding issue, I learned that indeed, the US Government will heretofore name the current virus outbreak H1N1 instead of the “Swine Flu”.
The pork lobby is behind the name change, and although it’s easy to laugh about it, they have some justifiable issues. Like certain countries’ refusal to import pork products from the U.S. due to the mistaken perception that eating pork could somehow transmit the virus. Grain and soybean futures plummeted as well, so there is probably some investor anxiety too. As others have pointed out, the CDC hasn’t quite gotten it because their website is still named “swineflu”.
Pork supporters need to be careful, though, because the truth is that the influenza virus tends to be generated by either birds (avian flu) or pigs (swine flu). In fact, many reports do make a connection between a large Smithfield operated pig farm in Mexico and the first reported cases. The more they protest that there is no link to pork in the current outbreak, the more eager researchers will be to identify the source. And if it is a pig farm, then it just might be possible that there will be more attention on livestock conditions, not less. (Giant agribusiness was not a factor, however, in what is still history’s worst flu epidemic back in 1917. If you want to know more, I highly recommend the book The Great Influenza, by John Barry.)
All of this has reminded me of the power in a name–both good and bad. How many jokes have you heard about the long-gone Nova, the car that means “will not run” in Spanish.
Perhaps what the World Health Organization needs is a good naming brief! Apparently, the naming device in this case was the assumed source.
As names go, Swine Flu meets many of the criteria of a good name. It’s short, simple, easy to remember, descriptive. I wish I could come up with names like that! H1N1 just doesn’t do it for me. As another official suggested, perhaps in the future, we should use the geographic location as an aspect of the name. Well, we know that Mexico won’t accept Mexican Flu, and I have got to assume that the U.S. and Canada want nothing to do with North American Flu. And didn’t we stop using Asian Flu years ago?
How depressing that we have moved, like so many technology companies, to the alpha-numeric as the core of our naming system. Maybe they can jazz it up with a nice logo!